Monthly Archives: May 2006

One of the best ways to annoy me is to come up to me in mid-conversation with someone about the benefits of blogging and drop this line," Blogging. You've obviously got a lot of spare time." It annoys me on a number of levels. Firstly, because it dismisses blogging as frivolous and as a spare time hobby not worthy of serious time commitment. Secondly, it infers that I'm not working as hard as everyone else and have the before mentioned time to "fill". So what makes blogging, especially the educational type, so compelling to me?

A chance to reflect on my daily work. Since I started this venture last August, I have left signposts of my work along the way. I have thought back on successes, how I would do things differently, recorded steps in processes and resources that I have utilised in my classes. I can check exactly how I was travelling at a particular moment in time, and if I need to construct a report, all of my raw ideas and data are waiting to be moulded.

A chance to build valued connections with other educators globally. Through this medium I have had conversations with other bloggers from all sectors of education, from all corners of the world. I've commented on their posts and they have repaid me many times over with their observations, counsel and insight in my comments section. As I scan through my blogroll, I read online colleagues who have chosen to be a part of my professional learning. I wouldn't be presenting at CEGSA with Al if not for blogging or have met Bill Kerr. I wouldn't have crossed words with Alex or Leigh, or shared anecdotes with Doug from Alaska and Doug from Minnesota. My ideas and writings would not have been remixed in other blogger's posts - this helps to build on my understanding.

In a fortnight's time, Technology School Of the Future here are holding a Blogging Masterclass featuring the wonderful talents of James Farmer and Barbara Ganley. I'm going and I have heard that it is almost totally booked. Today I found the link to the official blog for the Masterclass put together as an example for the session. Before I stuck my big nose in, 16 people had already posted a response making the section read more like a forum. I'm glad this class is happening because I have some concerns about how blogs are viewed currently in our education system and the comments section reflect that to a certain degree. People seem to be worried about moderating and filtering, and that a platform that looks as good as WordPress does must be complicated, and only viewing as a vehicle for their students. My comment summed up my thoughts when I got to the end of the comments:

I’m really looking forward to the Masterclass but my initial response to this post (still very much like a forum, a blog in full flight has many different characteristics) is that we need to look at how we as educators can use this tool ourselves first before we think we are ready to plug it into classrooms. I strongly feel that unless you invest the time to really develop your own blogging skills, what hope do you have of using it to be a transformative tool in the classroom? There is so much opportunity using a blog to improve your practice in terms of gaining a better perspective of education globally, reflecting on your own work and making connections with others worldwide. You have to be a reader of other people’s blogs as well, otherwise you may as well write your thoughts up in a Word document. In summary, until you become aware of the power of a real audience that can potentially come with a blog, you won’t be able to harness that power effectively for your students and blogging runs the danger of becoming a short term gimmick. I think that Barbara especially will emphasize this point of view. See you all there.

I shouldn't be so concerned - after all, these are the educators keen enough to take time out of a busy term, grappling with common report expectations and surely, surely the light will click on as it has for me and the edublogosphere will benefit from their reflections, connections and participation. So blog on......

Tonight after school, we held our termly Middle School Kooyonga Cluster meeting. The focus was on Student Initiated Curriculum and we had some guest speakers - practicing teachers who were prepared to share their experiences and individual approaches. First up, we heard from Richard Maynard, who talked about his school's approach titled "Personalised or Individualised Learning @ Seaford Rise 6-12 School." He started by briefly skimming though the theoretical base (omitted because of time constraints which is a pity because it would have been useful background) and then gave us some contextual information. Seaford Rise has a purpose built Middle School which is quite uncommon in the South Australian education system. The 6-9 year levels comprises 50% of the school's 888 kids in a low to middle socio-economic area in southern Adelaide. There, the Middle School is divided into four sub schools. Richard talked about the use of the James Beane model of negotiated curriculum with three focuses that the students identify through the process (an issue you are interested in that affects your life, Australia and then the world) which then leads to interest based planning. For students inexperienced in the process, scaffolding is provided for successful negotiation. As Richard pointed out, a "free for all" with choice doesn't work and the structures also include rubrics generated for marking. Reflection is also a very important component and is based on DeBono's six hats. An interesting point that Richard also made was that it takes time for students to effectively be in charge of their own learning but once they mastered the strcutures and accountabilities built in, they used the independence effectively. He also pointed out that his classes weren't as switched on or cooperative when faced by more "traditional" or authoritarian style teachers. A high school teacher in the group asked the question about what to do if a student encountered a teacher later in their schooling (Year 10 onwards) whose planned content had already been covered as an independent choice. Richard's response was beautifully simple - let them negotiate an alternative! As he pointed out, covering the curriculum is about mastering skills and concepts, not chewing through prescribed content.

We also heard from Peter Jones, a Year 6/7 teacher from East Torrens Primary, a very culturally diverse school. All children have an Indiviual Learning Plan (ILP) which lasts for a semester and culminates in a three way interview. All ILP's have the previous ILP goals listed, then the next goals are negotiated with the teacher. His perspective was quite different from Richard's as he had inherited a system - albeit, one he was happy to be part of, while Richard's point of view was driven by the fact he was a prime mover in the design of his school's negotiated curriculum focus.

This was an informative hour and it is great that student initiated curriculum is still a focus within our education system, although I am sure that a majority of educators would find the approach to be a big risk to take in terms of changing their practice.

Well, if you read the last two posts and were confused, a little bit of background is in order. Today I attended the ICT Research Expo at TSOF which featured presentations from the 2005 ICT Research Grants. The Action Research Grants have been a DECS initiative since 2003 and I was lucky enough to score one back then for the development of student friendly school websites, working with my class and my good educator friend, Lindsay and his class. I was encouraged to take a look today by my principal especially as several of the presentations featured the use of Interactive Whiteboards. Our network manager came along for a look too so it was good to have a professional colleague to bounce thoughts and ideas with. As the previous entries showed, I had a go at live blogging using the wireless network at TSOF but I wasn't too brave. I used the Tablet PC input panel to scribe as I went, turning my scrawl into the Open Office Writer document and pressing save regularly to avoid loss of text. At the end of each session, I cut and pasted into my blog and posted. By the third session, I'd had enough and listened to Mike Roach's presentation on live NASA feeds into his high school Science classes and listened like a regular human being.

After that, I still recorded my impressions but I'm sticking them all in one post here a couple of hours after the event. I don't think that it'll make much difference as they were my thoughts as I listened and I'm no David Warlick or Stephen Downes whose thoughts I might like to read as they unfold!

So you've got an Interactive Whiteboard! Now what?
Beth Measday, Ingle Farm PS.

I've referenced this research report before over at Activboarding so I knew the gist of her conclusions prior to this presentation. I would also say that Beth is an extremely engaging speaker and I can see how she will be a tremedously succesful consultant for Electroboard, the distributors of SmartBoards here in Australia. Consequently, Beth is an active proponent of the SmartBoard brand but I've been really keen to hear what she has to say re: IWB technology in general terms as her research was not brand based. This fits with what I've been exploring with about whether IWB technology is the best way to go. Beth also wanted to look at how to support teachers to become powerful uses of IWB in their classrooms. She started by using the DECS ICT skills and abilities survey and found 75% of teachers were at the basic level. She started the implementation by getting the staff in three phases - the keen, the ones who saw the keen users and wanted one, then the reluctant teachers. She ran regular weekly sessions to support those teacher for just in time learning, Beth talked about "play to learn"as her preferred model of learning, but different teachers need different learning structures as well. The first group of teachers filled the "play to learn" model but the second group needed a "trickle feed" model. Some needed a "read the manual" approach and other wanted a 1:1 approach. Beth commented that if those teachers had to offer that to their students that would be a different matter! Training and time to learn is essential for success. A key factor for the last group was essential technical support. It was also key to have the software available on all computers and important to disperse the expertise on staff to have more than one way of troubleshooting problems. IWB's also increase the use of other technologies - scanners, camera, slates etc. I even got to ask a question. How do you move teachers from using it as primarily a teaching tool towards using it as a learning tool? Beth's reply was that at her school,the IWB has never been used as a teaching tool only. However, she qualified that by saying that she had seen the transition from teacher designed materials extensively prepared prior to now getting the students to construct lessons as they went through the day.

Improved Learning Outcomes for Anangu Students on the use of ActivBoards.
Kathy Smerdon (AESEO Ernabella), Gail Carroll, Kirstie Holmes and Bianca Lally (Mimili Anangu School)

This was a very cool session as it was beamed in via Centra - ie Powerpoint Show and online voice and video link (webcam) controlling the presentation. After an intro, the presenters (apologies, I lost track of who was speaking when) played the Photostory file about the project to give some background to Mimili. One of their aims was to cater for the Anangu way of learning, particularly the use of images to demonstrate a concept - their point of success was in helping the students to move from concrete concepts to more abstract understanding via the IWB. The staff take up has been steadily growing. Whatever level the staff starts at, an IWB is a tool that they can get started with in the integration of ICT. The relative isolation of these communities means that professional development and technical support is a major issue. They did say that they have had very little trouble with the Activboards. They support each other via network meetings, training across the district and are still working on ways to share their resources via their district website on Commander's website.

Are blogs an effective tools to support SHIP students research collaboratively and to improve literacy?
Kirsty Amos, Grant High School.

She takes a SHIP (Students with High Intellectual Potential) class and wanted to investigate show communication skills could be improved via the use of blogs. After a quick explanation of blogs and RSS, she moved onto describing the project. The blog system was set up internally and completely protected. The aim was to get them out onto the world wide Web, but that didn't eventuate. Kirsty said they were glad that it didn't progress to that stage as one child had blogged about an inappropriate topic and because of the closed system, it could not be traced back. She referenced Peter Ruwoldt's metaphor of the using the internet like a road when a child starts crossing the road, you hold their hand, as they get older, you accompany them etc...until they are aware enough and skilled enough to do so. Used a set up called Serendipity on their local server and subscribed to each other's RSS feed. When the students started a lot of them used TXT language. Again, access to computers was key to success and Grant High School used a thin client setup to have lots of computers available reading from the server.(Correct me of I'm wrong, Peter.) Kirsty actually said that the kids were losing some of their interest now. She did say that the research proved their theory that blogging has the capacity to improve communication skills. The project did encounter a lot of technical hitches along the way - if she did it again, she would use a public blog server. (I suggest learnerblogs.) She gave us the example of a student who was gaining acceptance and being listened to via this medium. A very interesting research project and of interest to the wider edublogosphere - I think the report link above will yield more in depth information.

Using iMovies to reflect on, understand and change learner behaviour.
Mark Hansen, Gilles Plain PS

This project focused on the use of movies to improve some poor behaviours. The child whose behavior was being targeted had to create a movie that portrayed themselves and showed different choices that could be made. It also showed the child how they would appear to others. The child owned the video and could choose to share it with his peers if he wished. Mark's point was that you get powerful results in video if the stories are about the students themselves and about what could really happen.

That's it - these are only my formative thoughts that I scrawled as it unfolded. It can be hard to focus properly when you are trying to get sentences down but a recent Stephen Downes post had me wanting to try the live blogging thing to see how it flies for my immediate learning. I might try some reflective posts later.

Or not.

Creating animations through peer tutoring.

Mandy Way, Karen Butler, Averil Pope and Malcolm Woolven from The Pines PS.

Their research question was: I'll show you - creating animations through peer tutoring.

Using the program Swish to improve the literacy outcomes of ESL students was the focus. We saw a short video clip showing the kids working on their presentations using the program, Camtasia which was used to peer tutor each other as a way of getting students to use a multimedia literacy skill set. Now one of the students from the project is giving us a quick demonstration of Swish. Two other students are now showing how the peer to peer tutoring in Swish occurs with one experienced student and a hard picked "novice" looking over her shoulder! The first student showed her partner how to do a simple effect and quickly had her up and running. By getting kids to record their voice on their demonstrations then they can hear back how their oral language was going and the teachers can track their oral skill development. The next development was to use Audacity to add music or effects to improve the final product and make them more engaging.

Digital Cameras in the Junior Primary Classroom

Annette Davey and Diana Smith from Port Lincoln J.P.

Their research question was: How does the use of ICT and in particular digital cameras and related technology enrich the early Literacy shills acquisition of new Reception students?

The two teachers maintained a professional journal - used Word, then Publisher. At reception level, then is a lot of focus on acquiring alphabet shills and basic word skills. The computer assisted in the motivation of constructing words for these young students. The computers provided the interconnectedness needed to relate the skills to real life for the kids. ICT provides a way for students who have poor handwriting to experience success. The use of photos helped to engage the Students in their oral language because a photo from within the classroom can generate high quality conversation. One great example was that a digital camera was sent home with a child whose property was affected by the Port Lincoln bushfires early last year to take photos every few months of the regrowth. Ever in the JP classroom, if pencil and paper as not "cutting it" then we have to move with the times and use new technologies for engagement. Some parents were reluctant to have young children using computer, but the research project has helped break down that barrier.
The research impact was the use of extra staffing time (FIR) was used by teacher, in a team teaching situation, so that teaches are gaining shills along side of the computing specialist. As with all good research projects, it raise more questions to be answered.

Some of my thinking about the best way to deploy technology in the primary school classroom seems to be heading in either of two near future directions. One - build it big enough that everyone can see the same thing or small enough that everyone can have one of their own. One costly thing that has a long life (by Moore's law standards, anyway) but needs upgradeable software and reliable peripherals and is mainly geared towards being a teaching tool or lower cost (but not low enough yet) handheld or exercise book sized devices that are designed for personalization but rapidly evolving in their shape, capacity and capability. Yes, you guessed it. It's time for one of those Interactive Whiteboard vs. 1 to 1 PDA/laptop posts of ponderance.

It's not my position in my education system to say what is the correct way to equip our local primary schools, but I am entitled to an opinion. A lot of thoughts about the right way to effectively use the technology dollar and ensure that we are just not putting things in for the sake of it. However, I get worried when well meaning colleagues (some higher up in leadership than me) make statements along the lines of, "Interactive Whiteboards are the way of the future." Ironically, my job entails the implementation of an IWB program here but I am far from a blind advocate. I have been reading a lot of Alex Hayes' thoughts lately at both of his blogs and they have offered my brain a lot of fuel for thought. I am worried because anyone who sees an Interactive Whiteboard as an educational technology solution has really missed the point about technology and its role within our society, nay, our world. Everything is evolving so fast and nothing is going to stop to allow our busy education system to "catch up" - this year's IWB could be next year's Nova 5000. It's a corny phrase but it's true, the only thing certain about the future is that it is uncertain. Alex says in his post, Mlearning : Importance.

I believe that learning that includes or incorporates the mobile technologies that students own, have access to and preference is at the heart of the challenge that education organisations face, now and in the future.

The questions and positions that we as educators adopt with respect to mlearning are respected when we acknowledge that the simple, small and seemingly insignificant 'games' that students of all ages play using these technologies. At the heart of our current ICT's in schools is the letter - capital "C" - communication.

My own research question / stance could be framed as - How can we improve the uptake of mobile communication technologies in a teaching and learning context acknowledging and incorporating the mobile technologies that students own and/or have access to ?

Or more simply and more pertinent to my present situation accompanying the former question - What challenges do educators face as they seek ways to employ mlearning as part of their everyday teaching and learning duties ?

I am entirely convinced we are at the crossroads in the Australian educational context with these issues and challenges.

These words made me think about my own [tentative] use of mobile technologies and the benefits it has brought to the way I now learn. Even in the primary school sector, is it the way forward? I outlined this in my comment to Alex:

However, the idea of anywhere, anytime learning that a mobile device gives its user really hit home to me the other day at a meeting with my learning team. I had been to the doctor earlier in the day and while I was sitting there, waiting my turn, I re-read an offline Prensky article webfile that would be useful at the meeting later on. Having that option has been become a regular way of operation for me now and I don't think anything of it but a few of my colleagues were amazed. So as wireless networks in the education sector become more common place, I wonder how I could utilise a class set of PDA's and whether the current focus on technologies like Interactive Whiteboards in the primary school sector (ironically, part of my role here at my school) is part of an old classroom container paradigm that may no longer be relevant.

And even as I think that I'm getting on Alex's wavelength and imagining the future of a middle school Aussie class with their wireless handhelds connecting and accessing web application as needed as part of the way they do their learning, Alex's exploratory response to my comment reminds me that IWB's have a lot of untapped potential and once again, the technology chosen is only as good as the methodology that drives it.

Your points on on the interactive whiteboard "container" may well be big news at the moment and again someones bright idea of transporting learning and connecting this in a distributive manner. I'm not entirely familiar with Interactive Whiteboards however it seems the ability to drag, drop, interact with and remotely operate that which was once static has again changed the ways in which we "showcase" what we do in a PD sense.

There is also the issue of getting the teachers (technophobic ones included) on board and reality says that an IWB stands a good chance of being sustainable. Ideally, in a world where education has buckets of dough, I'd fire up my IWB and model the task or problem to be solved and the kids would log in wirelessly on their handhelds and get to work. But the reality in education here in SA is you roll the dice and cross your fingers and hope that your purchasing power has been well directed and you don't end up with Interactive White Elephants or Wireless Devices in the hands of unmotivated students that have as little work in them as some of their exercise books used to have.

This post has been in the holding bay for over a week so I thought I'd better finish it up and get it posted.

There's been a bit of talk over at TALO regarding a Web 2.0 overview in the Newspapers In Education section of Adelaide's only daily newspaper, the Advertiser. As I barely buy the paper (read news online mainly and catch the occasional bulletin on TV) I would have missed it but a friendly e-mail from Vonnie of South Oz E-Learning alerted me and I nabbed the liftout whilst over at the in-laws on Friday night. There's no online link and the Advertiser website only has centrespreads of their education pages as recent as 2004. I think the list of 27 applications is interesting in what it omits as well as what was chosen to be included and there seemed to be quite a few apps that were variations on a theme. So what made the list?
Web 2.0 Mash up Centre
Photo Sharing
Notes, Sharing and Word Processing
Jot Live
Web Brush
Zoho Writer
Social Bookmarking & Notes
Calendar/Time Managment
Personalised News
Online Mail
Online Collaboration
Yack Pack
Wikibooks was also mentioned but the supporting paragraph was an error and repeated the text from under the YouSendit title. Interestingly, the link led to a page that read:

This wiki does not exist yet. Perhaps you are looking for one of our other projects:

There was a heap there that I've never tried but the ones I do use (, Flickr, Writely, Protopage) all do a good job of serving a particular purpose. I was surprised that a limited list of 27 had so many like apps, and it could have easily widened so that each one featured was for a different purpose - a few others that could have featured might have been irows, DabbleDB, stripgenerator, thumbstacks or the new one Leigh's been talking about, Gliffy.

Anyway, education gets a lot of press about being slow to embrace and take on board technological change but the print media has also been lacking in awareness in the new developing face of the web. So as a conservative newspaper, having the Advertiser recognise Web 2.0 as something worthy of profiling might mean another shift forward in credibility. I know that a couple of my colleagues have said that they wouldn't have recognised any of the apps if not for my webvangelising.

Browsing through my WordPress referers section and checking out my Technorati links reveals some interesting information about who is stumbling on this particular blog and who is actually referencing its contents. As a blogroll is a form of recommendation, it is always flattering and humbling to see where Teaching Generation Z pops up. Recently I've noticed a link to Spanish blogger, Alvaro Gregori who writes in his native language (although as his blogroll attests, he reads English language blogs widely) and the latest on my Technorati "blogs that link here" list is Canadian French language blog authored by Dominic Villiard referencing me as Teaching Generation X. I'm not sure how they go interpreting Australian slang and turns of phrase, but it actually makes me realise that as an English language only educator, I am quite limited in my reading and interaction in the international edublogosphere. Thankfully language translation services like Altavista's Babelfish mean it isn't too hard to enjoy other non-English bloggers, although the varying grammar rules of different languages means some meaning is lost in translation. My German teaching colleagues at work assure me that learning a foreign language can actually improve my own grasp of English but my knowledge of foreign languages withered in the boredom of Year 10 German classes whilst in high school. I should actually be making some attempts to learn Italian to impress my in-laws of Calabrian origin. However, it may well be in the online flattened world that neither of those two languages are the ones high on anyone's priority list. A recent post by Vicki Davis analysing a Technorati graph of languages used in the blogosphere highlighted that 37% of blogs are written in Japanese while English, long thought of as the dominant international language only has 31% of the pie. So it's highly likely that bloggers using their own choice of first language could be reading your blog and while they may be comfortable using their bilingual and trilingual skills, monolingual bloggers like me will need to develop skills in decoding other language grammar structures in order to fully participate in true global discussions.

It does pay to look closely at the not-so-fine print when reading. James is holding a competition to predict when the 10,000th blog on will be created. But after I posted my guess at his blog, I read the other 33 comments and someone with better reading skills than me pointed out that:

.....all you have to do is to post to your blog the time you guess at, link to this post, and I’ll furnish you with the domain of your choice and hosting for a year...

So, the winner will be on pingback not from the comments section at Incorporated Subversion!!! Not too smart, Graham. So here's my official guessimate - May 23rd, GMT + 8.

Personally, I think the winner should come from the ranks (hint, hint).

Two of the districts in the Adelaide metro area put on a half day session of professional development today for aspiring leaders at the Glenelg Golf Club. I knew about this last week and I e-mailed the contact person to register my interest for this opportunity even though I had never heard of the keynote speaker, Patrick Duignan. I nearly didn't go, either. I assumed that because I didn't receive any reply, that I was too late for registration so I has headed off to my Kooyonga Cluster Coordinators meeting (these are twice a term) where Anne, the district office contact for our Cluster said to me, "What are you doing here, Graham?"

She then told me that she'd seen my name on the list of attendees and that the e-mail contact had been on leave, hence no registration confirmation. She also said that if I left straightaway, I could still get there on time for the presentation. Glenelg Golf Club is about 10 - 15 minutes drive from the district office, so off I headed via Tapleys Hill Road and was there by about 8.50 am. Luckily, nothing had started, Patrick Duignan was still being picked up from the nearby airport and I got to join a few fellow coordinators on a table overlooking the very inviting 18th hole there at the golf club. It was a very nice day outside too. Perfect autumn golf weather........but I digress.

While we waited for the guest speaker, our district director, John Binks-Williams spoke for a short while making some good points in relation to the way recent applications for leadership crossing his path were being written. His point was that when you write an application, in the first page will tell if you are after the glory of leadership or achieving for others. His thoughts on leadership in schools were :- Build teams. Work with others. Value and influence others. Look for worth and value in others who you don't naturally get along with. "Little things mean everything."

By then Patrick Duignan had arrived. He got wired for sound and started his presentation. Below are my notes which I won't change from their original format unless I want to digress and expand:

Recent focus on leadership was on the role of the principal > leading onto the Creation Of Culture (still principal's role) > values and beliefs introduced in the 80's > ethics and standards (authenticity) is a new phenomenon in education.
Leadership in education in the 90's was modelled on business - downsizing etc.
Shift towards fostering learning, teachers are now being recognised as leaders.
Time, space, technology,people's skills/competencies are key issues.
What is leadership all about?

Shift in leadership from competencies to capabilities.
Change is a big factor now.
Difference between Morals (right or wrong) and Ethics (right or a different right - point of view) - through relationships, simple equation. NO INFLUENCE = NO LEADERSHIP.
Education needs a mindset of being "up-to-date" - in Health sector, there is no room for anyone saying, "That's not my thing." It's not acceptable for any educator to close the door on your practice - be prepared to work in teams but good leaders prepare people to "properly engage."

Engagement drives student learning.
Research shows it is better to have a group of diverse people discussing and making decisions than 1 or 2 experts.
PROFESSIONAL DIALOGUE is really important. That's why educational blogging is so good - asynchronous dialogue at times when it suits the educator.

Finally, Patrick talked at length about the fact that people are interested in leadership but not necessarily in its current hierarchial form, as a principal. Leadership will have to change and eveolve in much the same way that the concept of classrooms will be reshaped and reconfigured. He talked about the concept of "learning spaces" which is heavily influenced by technology and gave an example of a development by a company in Sydney called LandLease who are developing 10 x 30,000 home communities in Western Sydney where schools are being reconfigured into "learning communities". The entire community is to be networked and businesses who want to be involved have to sign on to be part of that "learning community" (homeowners, too!). I started thinking about all of the ideas and concepts Alex Hayes has been exploring in mLearning as he spoke. It also made me think that Interactive Whiteboards could be an "old technology" mindset in this brave new world that is already here and will only spread around this country.

So, although Patrick Duignan was here to focus on leadership, his insights on change and the changing nature of schools was of most interest for me. It was worth the rush and the low fuel gauge on my Corolla survived to the nearest service station.